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Refugees already settled in U.S. concerned over Trump order

January 29, 2017 at 6:44 PM EDT
The U.S. admitted 12,500 Syrian refugees in 2016, but President Donald Trump’s executive order Friday indefinitely bans any more from entering the U.S. NewsHour Weekend Correspondent Megan Thompson reports on how the Trump administration's policy has left some refugees already in the country very concerned.
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MEGAN THOMPSON, PBS NEWSHOUR CORRESPONDENT: Mohammed Hameed worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq for 10 years. Soon after he started his job, he says, he became the target of Iraqi militias, for helping the Americans.

MOHAMMED HAMEED, INTERPRETER: Most of the people who worked for the Americans, especially interpreters like me, their life was in real risk. Even like my family, they are wondering why I didn’t go outside that much, because any person could recognize me. It really was like, I mean, it’s terrible experience to live in such circumstances and conditions, if you are like under threat.

THOMPSON: He says in 2007, Iraqi militiamen broke into his home looking for him. He wasn’t home, but, he says, his brother, who looks just like him, was kidnapped and tortured.

HAMID: After they figured out that it was not me, they just let him go, but he was almost dead, I mean.

THOMPSON: That’s when Hameed applied for a visa to leave Iraq for the U.S., and to bring his wife and their son, now ten, and their daughter, who’s four. The vetting process took three years. Today, Hameed appeared at a press conference with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who called the Trump executive order “misguided” and “shocking.”

Hameed’s family arrived here just in time– on January 5th, three weeks before the Trump administration imposed the new ban on migrants and refugees from Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries.

HAMEED: I mean, when I was in Baghdad, I don’t know exactly which time or I thought the moment I would be killed.

THOMPSON: Hameed’s family has settled in Bayonne, New Jersey, about an hour’s commute to New York City. He’s looking for work as a computer consultant.

AZZAM ELIAS: And I am a good citizen, I have my own business.

THOMPSON: Azzam Elias (ph) was also at today’s press conference. He emigrated to the U.S. from Syria in 1978 as a refugee, fleeing violence and persecution. His two daughters remained behind, raised by their mother. When the Syrian civil war began six years ago, he says he knew what he had to do.

ELIAS: We’re going to bring him here. We’re going to have to. We have to save my grandchildren.

THOMPSON: Rania (ph), now 37, says the hardest part of living in Syria was the constant shelling and not knowing if her kids would make it home from school. One day a suicide bomber blew himself up right outside their apartment in Damascus.

After years of applications, she finally got a visa with the help of the nonprofit Catholic Charities. She and her husband and their four kids arrived in New York just last month.

Rania tells me she doesn’t have to worry anymore that somebody is going to hurt her kids, she finally feels at peace. But Rania’s sister, Azzam’s other daughter, remains a refugee in Lebanon, next door to Syria. The fate of her application for a U.S. visa is more uncertain than before.

ELIAS: It’s so terrible. When I see my grandchildren in the other side, seeing these kids — how happy and how peaceful here, because you can see on their faces and how — and they are the ones look at me like, how about us? You left us behind. Or you don’t want us.

That’s the feeling I feel. Honest to God. And that’s — I can’t sleep, I can’t work, I can’t — it’s — hand tied. I don’t know what to do.

THOMPSON: Elias, who lives in the Bronx and owns his own upholstery business, says he wants the president to know the and his family are good people.

ELIAS: See, this is not a face of a terrorist. This is the face that’s going to make America great.

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